Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 16, 2010

Illustrator Saturday – John O’Brien

John O’Brien is a longtime cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine. He’s also a senior lieutenant in the North Wildwood Beach Patrol, an illustrator of dozens of children’s books, and a banjo/concertina player specializing in Celtic and Dixieland tunes.

John O’Brien, who lives in Delran New Jersey, says his beach work doesn’t often inspire his artwork directly: “This job is public safety, the total opposite of drawing.”

But the picture on the right, which appeared in the New Yorker on Aug. 13, 2001 had to be inspired by his time in on the beach.

Then there was Beach Patrol that you wrote with Max Bilkins and illustrated. That book came out in May 2004.

It’s obvious his job influenced that book, so I am sure the beach will show up again in John’s art.

I asked John about his process. This is what he had to say, “I begin my sketches using Bienfang Graphics paper, pencil and kneaded eraser surrounded by research material, text and type, if available.

“When I’m satisfied with the design, I ink over my pencil lines with a Rapidograph pen. Then, I erase the pencil lines and tape down the text.

“For the finishes I trace my sketches in pencil onto Strathore 4-ply 500 Series vellum surface paper, using a light box.

“Next, I ink over the pencil lines with the same Rapidograph pen used for the sketches.

“If color is required, I tape the drawing to canvas board using masking tape.

“I apply color to the inked drawing with Doctor Martin’s Hydrus water colors. I occasionally use liquid or low tack frisket to mask out certain areas. A blow dryer is also a useful tool to speed things along.”

Sketch to Final

John’s latest book.

Sketch to Final.

POOF is my personal favorite!

John tells me the above piece ended up being made into fabric and turned into jackets.

The three cartoons below all appeared in the New York Times.

If you would like to meet John O’Brien he is having a book signing for Blockhead next Saturday at:

Books of Wonder Book Store
Saturday, Oct. 23, 2010
12 noon -2:00 pm
18 W. 18th St., NYC 10011

Hope you enjoyed your visit with John. This is only a fraction of the books he has illustrated. One of these days I am sure he will show off and have a website deveoped, so we can all visit when we want a fix of John O’Brien.

Besides being very talented, he is also a very nice guy. If you can stop by Books of Wonder next Saturday, I am sure you will enjoy your time with him.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. OH, how enjoyable was THIS! All SO full of humor! John, I can’t believe you don’t have a website. I realize that once you’re successful, it’s not like you NEED to advertise yourself, and you’re obviously not all full of yourself (which is SO nice), but perhaps you can hire someone (maybe like Kathy? nudge, nudge, and no, she didn’t ask me to plug her! lol) to put one together for you so that anyone who’s interested, can learn more about you and see all your work!

    I mean, I LOVE that I can find work and info on my favorite artists, etc. I would thoroughly enjoy yours. And thank you SO much for sharing your process and the materials you use. I find that extremely helpful and always appreciate when that info is included within the picture books.


  2. an illustrator, musician, AND a lifeguard?! how cool is john o’brien?! beautiful illustrations, and totally inspiring. thank you so much for sharing with us!


  3. What a great sense of humor he has!!


  4. […] Temean has a great feature on John O’Brien in her blog, Writing and Illustrating.  The dude is one busy guy, still at it after all these […]


  5. I have know John for 30 year and his art is a mirror reflextion of his always Dry but very colorful personalitly. When ever I see his work on the news stands It brings a smile to my face and me back to our days life guarding on his belove North Wildwood beach.


    • Jeff,

      Thanks for leaving a comment about John. Besides being a wonderful illustrator, he is a nice guy, too.



  6. […] gateway drug that led me down a Boschian worm hole was John O’Brien’s 1977 Random house book “Favorite Tales of Monsters and Trolls”. I was fascinated with his tight […]


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